Human Trafficking is defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime “as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” These words are a jumble of black tar that is poured over thousands of innocent people around the globe. As a gruesome form of modern slavery, it is hard to stomach the violence and exploitation that takes place, not to mention the innocence being robbed each hour, from victims on one side of the world to the other.
Human trafficking happens closer than we think. It’s the girl at the truck stop forced into prostitution. It’s the children brought across the border forced against their free will to become slaves to the perpetrators responsible. It’s also the man in the back of the restaurant kitchen who was robbed of his passport, forced into unbearable labor and held against his will. These wounded souls bear feelings of fear, guilt, and loss. Most of them are lured by false pretenses, promises, and agreements – a lucrative job, stability, education or a loving relationship. The predators who feed off of these crimes are not partial to gender, race or age. Polaris Project shares, “Victims can be men or women, adults or children, foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. While they share the trait of vulnerability, victims have diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented.”
When a person is trafficked, they face many road blocks to accessing help, including their identity, money and documents being confiscated; language barriers when taken into an unfamiliar area; forbidden contact with family and friends; or they may be living in fear, terrified of what the traffickers will do to them or their families. The traffickers exploit their victim’s vulnerabilities; this is why awareness is key to putting a stop to inhumane treatments polluting countries everywhere. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally. Out of that number, 68% of them are trapped in forced labor, 26% of them are children, and 55% are women and girls. If this is the global estimate, could the estimate of nearby cities be just as shocking?
According to the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force (RCAHT), Riverside County alone is a target location of human trafficking, and is considered an “artery” from Mexico and South America to Los Angeles. Deputy Aaron Wolfe, a sheriff who is part of the RCAHT Task Force, acknowledged, “Everyone has to go through Riverside County to get to L.A.,” and is diligent in asking for the public’s help in reporting suspected cases. This alarming truth in the heart of Southern California is close enough to hit home to so many. Currently, there is an ongoing investigation regarding a young girl who was kidnapped from Egypt, brought to Riverside County and sentenced by her trafficker to work in his home as a nanny. Authorities are seeking to prosecute in this case of intolerable cruelty. She and her family were promised they would receive not only an education, but a salary to send home. Upon arrival, she was starved, forbidden to go to school, and ordered not to leave the home. Her trafficker threatened that her escape would cost her family’s lives. She was alone, afraid, isolated from any language she understood, and it took a few years before neighbors caught on and finally called the police.
This case isn’t the only one in our backyard. The Federal Bureau of Investigation of the Los Angeles Division reports that merely two years ago, two Inland Empire residents were arrested on charges of trafficking. The victim was a young 14-year-old girl forced into sex trafficking. The traffickers, a man and woman, forced her into prostitution so that they could profit from the money made as this young child was subjected to demoralization to its worst degree. As common with sex traffickers, the deranged couple exploited this innocent teen all over the internet. The physical scars may heal in time, but the emotional damage is irreversible. Luckily in this case, justice was served and the defendants are facing life in prison and will be prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Riverside.
NBC News reported eight people being indicted in a federal investigation into an alleged sex trafficking ring that was being suspected of recruiting young girls from Inland Empire schools to work as prostitutes in Los Angeles County. Four out the eight defendants were members of a high profile gang in Los Angeles and the other four were affiliates of these gang members. Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz shares, “Street gangs are increasingly turning to prostitution and human trafficking as a source of their revenue.” While the perpetrators are convicted now and facing life in prison, the teenage girls who experienced this horrific lifestyle may never be the same.
Unfortunately, prosecution is not always an option; many cases never make it to the D.A.’s office. Many victims are silenced or dismissed while even more traffickers get away with their heinous crime. It is cases like these that echo around the world. Helpless victims isolated and enslaved without a voice. So how do we help those who are targets and victims of this current slave trade? How do we help them have a voice? There are many organizations out there that are trying to do just this. “Slavery No More” is an organization dedicated to resourcing a diversity of the most effective organizations working to combat and abolish modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and to create awareness and opportunities for meaningful personal engagement. Awareness is a tactic that allows organizations to educate people on the danger and reality of human trafficking so that action can be taken regarding prevention and rescue. Last January, Slavery No More helped host the L.A. Freedom Walk. It was a walk to educate people on how to identify and report the crime, distribute national and local hotlines, and provide opportunities for the public to engage in combating human trafficking with various agencies.
“Erase Child Trafficking” is also an organization that exposes the darkness into light as they educate, rescue, and reclaim the victims of human trafficking. They are currently creating educational programs to increase public awareness around the specific issues of child trafficking. This organization has an extensive team with experience in rescuing children from dangerous trafficking situations. After the rescue, there must be rehabilitation, and ECT is committed to providing medical services, counseling, and other services that ensure proper care of these precious children. Their mission is to be “a unifying voice creating a cultural shift in the perception of child trafficking.” Organizations like ECT are important and give our world the proper tools to deal with such dangerous crimes.
We as a society must recognize the scope of this problem. We must strive toward ignoring stigmas regarding the issue of trafficking and realize that it cannot be a hush-hush topic. Each victim is someone’s daughter or son and is in need of our help to maintain their safety as well as the safety of those around us. This month is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and is a time for us to reflect on those who have been or could be affected by it. It is a month to remind us to take action and serve those who are helpless and are in need of victory. There are thousands of heart-wrenching narratives of injustice occurring not just in third-world countries, but in our backyards, and we can’t allow ignorance to be bliss any longer. Take time to remember those who had no voice, and give a voice to those who need one.
Sabrina Short, Staff Writer